Hard Things: Grocery Store

Going to the grocery store should not, by rights, be a hard thing. In fact, for people with true HARD THINGS to deal with, I imagine that going to the grocery store is laughably easy. By “hard things” here I mean dilemmas that I’m still searching for a good way to deal with. They are, most definitely, first world problems.

Nevertheless, the condition of being an American at the beginning of the 21st century is the condition of having too many choices.

Nowhere is this more apparent to me than at the grocery store. I love picking out what food to make, and I love the cooking of delicious food, but I do not love buying groceries, because there are just too many choices. The more I learn about the American food industry, the more treacherous I feel the trip to the grocery store becomes.

It always happens the same way. I come to the grocery store, happily purchase some bread and some pasta, and then, begrudgingly, look at the last thing on my list.

Eggs. It’s always eggs.

More times than I can count, I have found myself agonizing in front of the display of eggs, scrutinizing every egg carton, thinking “Free range?” “Cage-free?” “Organic?” “Natural?” I mull each egg carton, and their great disparity in price and think, “Should I just give up and buy the cheapest ones? They’re just eggs. Does the buying of eggs really have to trigger this existential crisis every time?” And then, inevitably, I always hear Leo McGarry’s voice in my head saying, “Think of the chickens.” And then I remember all the horrible things I’ve heard about chickens with their beaks cut off, crammed so close together that they can’t spread their wings, and I buy whichever eggs sound the least like that might have happened to the chickens that laid them.

This happens every. single. time.

I’ve come to expect it, and now I just walk up, grab the $4 eggs and move on. I have stopped purchasing meat at the grocery store (I still eat meat sometimes but very rarely buy it to make for myself) just because I don’t want to have this internal conflict several times per grocery visit.  It’s uncomfortable.

I don’t like thinking that my purchasing decisions have some larger global consequences. I don’t like the guilt that comes from buying bananas if they cause people to live in abject poverty. Usually, I just want some food, I just want to be able to make whatever I have planned to make, and I don’t want to have to think that I might be causing someone harm because of the decisions I make. I also hate thinking about how little information I really have, about what I’m purchasing, and how, in the end, I’m doing what I can and hoping for the best.

But I think, ultimately, my discomfort in front of the egg display in the grocery store is a good thing.

Because, unfortunately, there is no escaping this reality. The purchasing decisions we make do affect how companies behave, and there’s not a thing we can do about it. If demand for conventionally grown fruit evaporated, organic  (whatever that means) would proliferate more widely. Capitalism, baby. What we buy affects whether chickens are treated cruelly, how much the environment is polluted, and what fruits, exactly, those abroad can expect for their labors. We’re all, alas, in this together.

Like I said, first world problems. But I live in condition of having more resources than almost everyone else in the world, so the least I can do is use them wisely. I can vote with my dollars. I can cherish that awkward supermarket interaction between me and the eggs, and maybe I can grown to be more thoughtful every day.

That’s a good prayer. Let’s hope for that, for each of us.


One response to “Hard Things: Grocery Store

  • Kristine

    I think we are slowly moving toward more awareness of what we eat and where our food comes from. That said, it can be daunting to research some of the things in our fridge, much less each and every food item we consume in a day. This problem makes me want to have backyard chickens even more.

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